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Monthly Archives: February 2018

Planting a Moon Garden

Remember summer? When sometimes it’s just too darn hot to go outside and enjoy the garden? Why not think about planting a garden to enjoy at night when it’s cooler? Imagine romantic balmy breezes and moonlight all around. This is a “moon garden” and now is the perfect time to plan and plant your own. If you have the space, plant a new garden with these ideas in mind. Or, retrofit your current garden by adding some of the moon garden components to create a garden you enjoy both during the day and in the evening. Maybe this new revitalized garden could be your Valentine gift to your sweetie

Your moon garden can be any style, size or shape. The plants are usually light colored or night blooming flowering plants. Many of these are fragrant which adds to the sensory experience. Silvery leaves reflect and twinkle in the moonlight to add a touch of sparkle. Low voltage or solar powered orbs and other lights provide the perfect ambiance for this garden especially with dimmers to coordinate with the amount of moonlight. Including a small fountain provides the soothing sounds of water. Tall light colored statuary adds height, structure and mystique.

Don’t think you have enough room? Even a small terrace or balcony can become a perfect evening oasis with just a bench or bistro set, small fountain and a few pots of white or evening blooming romantic plants. A backdrop wall of white lattice provides a final touch.

Luckily, many plants are perfect for your moon garden. Your garden’s size determines the number and sizes of your plants. If you’re creating a new moon garden, include some flowers and plants of other colors to increase the daytime interest. If you’re retrofitting an existing garden to make it more “moon friendly,” use plants suggested for moon gardens in your area. Of course, your garden center or designer will have suggestions.

Here are several grouping possibilities:

  • White dogwood, white azaleas, gardenias, white petunias, dusty miller, white jasmine, nicotiana, moon flowers
  • Halesia carolina (snow drop tree), white climbing rose, white fuchsia, salvia, cornus canadensis, polianthus tuberosa, Harry Lauder Walkingstick, white oriental lily
  • Philadelphus ‘Natchez’, Four o’clocks, lavender, Elijah blue fescue, artemisia ‘Silver Mound,’ Agapanthus ‘Snow Storm’

With just a little imagination and effort, you’ll be able to enjoy your garden during the day and evening throughout the year.

Recipe for Romantic Moon Garden
Take one secluded spot
Add seating for two
Mix the sound of water with small ambient lights or candles
Surround with white, gray and silver colored flowers of various heights
Enjoy after sundown

Tips for Water Conservation in Vegetable Gardens

In the West, water is precious and conservation is essential. Gardeners don’t have to give up their perennials or home grown vegetables, just be more water wise. In our video, Gardening in a Drought, Tricia discusses ways to cut down on water usage in the garden by following some basic steps. Let’s talk about some of those easy things we all can practice to garden more water-wise.

Tip 1: Add more organic matter to the soil. Adding compost to the soil will help reduce the plants’ need for water. Studies have found that increasing the amount of organic matter by only 5% will quadruple the water holding capacity of the soil. Compost can be worked into the soil from compost piles or bagged compost.
Or you can increase organic matter by putting in a fall cover crop that will grow over the fall and winter. Cut the crop when it starts to bloom (or before) and allow it to sit and decompose, now you have green manure to add to the soil. The green manure will not only add organic matter to the soil but the legumes in the mix will fix nitrogen and increase the fertility, a win, win way to go.

Tip 2: Use mulches to reduce evaporation. Mulching helps to reduce evaporation and cool the soil (or warm the soil depending on the type of mulch used).  Mulching can reduce the plants’ water needs as much as 50%.
What can you use in the vegetable garden? Straw is a great mulch and as it breaks down it will add organic matter to the soil. Use a thick layer, about 1-3 inches is a good rule of thumb. Newspapers (only newsprint) can be put down around plants to help to cut down on weeds and reduce evaporation. Use about 2-4 layers and secure with ground staples or just put some straw over it to keep it in place.

Tip 3: Use Drip Irrigation. Drip irrigation applies water to soil/roots and reduces evaporation. Use the correct emitters to deliver the right amount of water to the vegetable bed. Put the drip irrigation under the mulch to cut down on evaporation.

Tip 4: Adjust watering to meet the needs of the vegetable. Water needs will vary depending on the stage of development of your plants. Moisture levels are critical when plants are young and have not developed a mature root system, right after transplanting and during flowering and fruiting. Check out the article by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Home Vegetable Garden Management in a Dry Climate on critical watering periods for different garden vegetables.

Tip 5: Change the types of vegetables grown if you live in a drought area. Consider not putting in plants that are heavy water users like corn or beans… or just plant less (although hard to do with corn). If you can’t do without in the garden, make sure to mulch heavily.

Tip 6: Change the style of planting. Plant in blocks as opposed to rows. Leaves shade the soil and you get less evaporation.

Tip 7: Know the root depth of your plants and group plants with similar water requirements. Check out the list of vegetables and root depths. This will help get just the right amount of water to the plants and not waste or overwater.

Tip 8: Adjust watering time and flow to match your soil type. Clay soil holds water well but absorbs it slowly, use low flow emitters, longer duration and water less frequently. Sandy soil is the exact opposite of clay soils, Loam is something in the middle.

Tip 9: Keep beds weeded. Don’t waste water on weeds, plus they compete for water with your veggies.

Tip 10: Water during cooler times of the day. Use timers on your irrigation system to water between 9 pm and 6am. more water will soak in, rather than evaporate.

Ways to Grow Eggplants

Eggplants are beautiful plants that are a cornerstone of edible landscaping and excellent for container gardening. Even better, they are delicious, and there are practically limitless ways to prepare them. They can be a bit finicky to grow in some regions, as they require lots of heat and sunshine. But don’t let that discourage you! With a little planning anyone can grow these wonderful veggies.

Selecting Your Varieties

There are two categories of eggplants to select from. Italians are the classic eggplant, and many heirlooms are available in purple, magenta, white, striped, and miniature. While all eggplants are originally from Asia, the Italian varieties have been bred in southern Europe for centuries. The “new” eggplant on the garden scene is the much older Asian eggplant; these are long and narrow, and come in a variety of colors including white, purple, magenta and green.

When selecting the best variety for your garden, consider the variety’s flavor profile and disease resistance, and then once you’ve narrowed it down, go with your favorite color! If you will be growing your eggplants in a container, select varieties that are best suited for this, such as Shooting Stars and Little Prince.

Planting Your Seeds

Eggplants should be started indoors at least 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost; some gardeners plant their eggplants as much as 10 weeks early to give their transplants a strong start in the garden. They do not tolerate cold temperatures, and can only be sown directly outdoors in warm areas that do not experience spring frosts and where the soil temperature is above 60F.

Plant your seeds 1/4 inch deep in small pots using a seed-starting mix such as Quickroot. Water frequently with a fine spray nozzle: eggplants do not tolerate drying out. Seeds started indoors should be grown under a strong light source and kept at 80 to 85F. Eggplant seeds grow best when kept warm on a heat mat.

Moving Eggplants Outdoors

Eggplants are warm season vegetables. They should be hardened off and planted outdoors at the same time as tomatoes, to which they are related. The soil temperature should be 60F, with no risk of frost. If a cold snap is in the forecast after you move your eggplants outdoors, you will need to protect them from the chill (read this to learn how to protect your plants).

Select a site where you have not grown eggplants, tomatoes, tomatillos or potatoes for at least two years. Your garden should have fertile soil with balanced nutrients, and a pH of 5.8 to 6.8. Eggplants require a lot of calcium; deficiencies can lead to problems such as blossom end rot. Good supplements of calcium include Calcium 25, oystershell lime, and limestone.

Eggplants prefer full sun; plants grown in partial shade may not fruit at peak levels. For the best fruit production, the plants need at least two months of nighttime temperatures of 70F. Space your transplants 18 to 24 inches apart in rows that are 30 to 36 inches apart.

Summer Success in the Garden

Eggplants are water loving plants, and require regular irrigation to produce healthy plants with good sized fruits. However, they do not like soggy, waterlogged soil, which promotes diseases. Deep watering a few times a week is a good way to encourage strong root development and fruit set.

Mulch around your plants to help conserve the water you give them, either with plastic mulch or with natural mulch such as cocoa hulls. Mulching is also helpful to prevent weeds.

As your eggplants mature, you may need to stake them so that the heavy fruits don’t pull over the plants and break their branches. You can create a bushier plant with more fruit-bearing stems by pinching off the tips of young eggplant stems.

Watch for problems with your eggplants throughout the growing season. Eggplants can be affected by a variety of pests such as aphids and tomato hornworms, and diseases such as powdery mildew and Verticillium wilt. For more information about eggplant pests and diseases and how to control them, check out the University of California’s IPM website.

From Plant to Plate

Your eggplant fruits should be ready to harvest 80 to 90 days after planting the seeds. When harvesting, cut the fruit from the plant with garden snips about an inch away from the fruit, as pulling it can damage the plant.

Eggplants have the best flavor when they are young, before the seeds start to form. Don’t leave your fruits on the plant too long, or the fruit can become tough and bitter. Although it’s tempting to let them keep growing bigger, the best time to harvest is when the fruits are over half their mature size and their skin is shiny. Over-ripe fruits have a dull skin. Picking the fruits early also encourages the plant to produce more fruit.

Eat your eggplants as soon as possible after harvest for the best flavor and texture. Asian eggplants are typically thin skinned and don’t require peeling like Italian eggplants. Eggplants do not store well without preservation and should be eaten within a few days of harvest. For immediate eating, they can be baked, grilled, roasted, stuffed or mashed. They can be preserved for storage by drying, pickling, or freezing.